C/O McMaster Hillel

When Jewish students need support, McMaster Hillel provides

By: Hannah Silverman, Contributor

McMaster Hillel, our campus’ only club for Jewish students, focuses on creating meaningful connections and experiences for Jewish students while they are studying at university. I believe that McMaster Hillel is extremely important in helping Jewish students feel welcomed and represented on campus. We provide invaluable resources to Jewish and non-Jewish students alike — creating a home away from home, providing Shabbat meals and holiday experiences, opportunities to engage with Jewish theology and learning and chances to connect with others with similar interests. 

Without Hillel, myself and many other Jewish students would not have access to such opportunities that are critical to our wellbeing and identity. There are between 500-700 Jewish students at McMaster University and Hillel serves as a conduit for anything from fielding questions around finding kosher food in Hamilton, to providing holiday programming or to hanging out with newly made friends. 

While many Jewish people share cultural and religious beliefs that unite us, there are a variety of individual opinions and Jewish practices that represent the diversity within our community. Hillel aims to meet the needs of as many Jewish students on campus as possible; as the current President of McMaster Hillel, I am committed to ensuring that all Jewish students feel safe, respected and valued at McMaster. 

When asked about the way in which McMaster Hillel supports students, Gal Armon, a fourth-year student expressed the utter importance of the club in the experience of Jewish students.

“As many Jewish students will tell you, being Jewish is a different experience for everyone and we all require different things in order to feel connected. For me, it is keeping up with traditions such as weekly Shabbat dinners. Having a club on campus that supports me in my desire to keep up with tradition is not just important, it is essential for my own mental and spiritual well-being," explained Armon.

“As many Jewish students will tell you, being Jewish is a different experience for everyone and we all require different things in order to feel connected. For me, it is keeping up with traditions such as weekly Shabbat dinners. Having a club on campus that supports me in my desire to keep up with tradition is not just important, it is essential for my own mental and spiritual well-being."


McMaster Hillel staff and students have collaborated with university partners and clubs, including the Equity and Inclusion Office, on various programs. We recently joined the newly formed Spiritual Care and Learning Community in hosting joint Interfaith weekly lunches. Additionally, in 2018, we were showcased on McMaster University’s website in recognition of being a welcoming and inclusive environment on campus. 

The Jewish community at McMaster has existed on campus since at least the 1950s and it is imperative that there is a space on campus where those from our community can gather. Like many other cultural, ethnic and religious groups, there are times we need to lean on one another for support. Hillel provides the guidance and support that my peers and I rely on. 

In 2019, it was reported that Jewish people account for the highest number of religious-based hate crimes in Canada and this number has continued to rise throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Jewish students often mention that they need designated spaces to help them process antisemitic experiences. This is what McMaster Hillel aims to achieve for Jewish students. 

“To me, Hillel is a safe space on campus for students like myself to come together as a Jewish community and it acts as a support system,” explained Rachel Altman, a fourth-year student “I feel like Hillel is a way for me to connect to my Judaism and my Jewish peers while I’m on campus.”

Our community’s connection to Israel is varied and multi-faceted, though the vast majority of the Canadian Jewish community feels a strong connection to Israel. McMaster Hillel aims to give students the option to explore these connections while also being a place for education and conversations around a complicated geo-political conflict. 

We are committed to holding space for all students who want to have conversations critically and respectfully with each other. Most importantly, I and the rest of McMaster Hillel pray for peace in the region so that all Israelis and Palestinians can live their lives without fear or war. 

What I find most remarkable about the work our club does on campus is that it has not diminished in the wake of the last year and half, when a large majority of students were not located on campus. 

Our Hillel Director, Judith Dworkin, wrote in a recent article about our virtual programming, shedding light on the creative ways we have approached building community.

“We are in the business of community so we need to think creatively about what it feels like to be a part of this community,” said Dworkin.

Like many other clubs, we found ways to adjust our programming and foster connections even from afar. Knowing that Jewish students were able to bring their authentic selves to Hillel, even in the midst of the past year, has been one of the things that staff and students alike are most proud of.

Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

By Ember, Contributor

cw: fatphobia, disordered eating

Food is what fuels our bodies. So why is it that there is an ever increasing rise of popularity in dieting and diet culture? A movement that encourages us to deprive ourselves; to aspire to be thin. To put it plainly? A hatred for fat bodies that results in widespread disordered eating.

The way we frame different topics and discussions is very important. This especially applies to the way we talk about food, our bodies and other people’s bodies.

Caloric science is based on outdated Western scientific methods from the nineteenth century by Wilbur Atwater. It is the estimate of how much energy is contained in a portion of food by burning it in a tank submerged in water, and measuring how much burning the food increased the temperature of the surrounding water.

However, it is hard to accurately predict the energy stored in food; our bodies do not work as simply as a furnace burning fuel. There are many factors that influence the calories of the foods we eat, like how the food is prepared, if cellulose is present and how much energy it takes to digest the food.

Not to mention, there are additional factors that affect digestion, such as metabolism, age, gut bacteria and physical activity. Labels on food do not accurately represent what we’re putting into our body nor what we’re getting out of it.

Ever since Canada enforced the Healthy Menu Choices Act back in 2016, which requires food establishments to list the amount of calories in their products, there has also been an increasing number of discussions surrounding the negative impact of the addition of calories to menus.

Another measurement that is often used to determine how healthy we are is body mass index, even though it is an inaccurate measurement of “health” for multiple reasons. It was meant to analyze the weight of populations, not individuals, and doesn’t take into account whether mass is fat or muscle. As a result, BMI is a biased and harmful method to gauge health.

Along with measurements like calories and BMI, language surrounding food can also be dangerous. You may hear things like “carbs are bad”, or you may hear discourse on “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods, “cheat days” and “clean eating”, to name some examples. This language can contribute to the notion that we should feel bad for eating food, when it simply is a way to nourish ourselves and additionally, something to enjoy.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Diet culture is so pervasive and present in society. It is encouraged by menus listing calorie amounts, peers, elders and healthcare professionals in various ways. Thoughts like “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” stem from conflating “health” and “weight”, which has roots in racism, classism and fatphobia.

Hannah Meier, a dietitian who contributed to a project tackling women’s health, writes about how society glorifies dieting. In Meier’s article titled A Dietitian’s Truth: Diet Culture Leads to Disordered Eating she writes, “I was half-functioning. I remember filling pages of journals with promises to myself that I wouldn’t eat. I planned out my week of arbitrary calorie restrictions that were shockingly low and wrote them all over my planner, my whiteboard, the foggy mirror in the bathroom.” 

For many of us, the mindset of diet culture swallows you whole, consumes your every thought and waking moment, then spits you out like rotten food.

Oftentimes, people aren’t advocating for diets because they want to be “healthy”. Instead, they often feel passionate about dieting because of their hate and disdain for fat people since they associate being “fat” with “unhealthy”, “unhappy” or “unlovable”.

It’s also important to note that views on fatness and fat bodies change depending on the time period and culture; renaissance paintings often depict fat women in angelic and celestial aesthetics. As well, certain cultures, both past and present, value fatness as a symbol of privilege, power, wealth and fertility.

Diet culture, eating disorders, and fatphobia are so tightly knit together that they are like an ill-fitting sweater woven by your grandmother that you didn’t want or ask for. Sometimes you think about wearing it, to make things easier or simpler. But it won’t. You will only become a shell of your former self; a husk that is barely scraping by.

Any joy derived from depriving yourself is temporary. A scale will weigh how much of you is there, but it won’t weigh how much of you has been lost to an eating disorder. It is a mental illness, a distortion of reality and external factors that influence how you think. You can’t just stop having an eating disorder on a whim.

Calorie counting isn’t healthy, demonizing certain foods isn’t healthy and having preconceived notions about someone’s health based on how their body looks isn’t “just caring about their health.” Stop calling food “unhealthy” or “healthy”, start calling it “nourishing” or “not/less nourishing. Eat food that makes you happy and makes you feel good. Bodies are so many things, including wonderful and complex. You only have one — so treat it with kindness.


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Graphics by Sukaina Imam

By: Rosemarie O’Shea

For many users, the birth control pill’s side effects pose problems beyond spotting and migraines. The pill’s effects on the mental health of women are now being more widely discussed than ever. More women are opening up about their birth control experiences and how it has taken a toll on their mental wellbeing.

A quick YouTube search results in various videos titled along the lines of “Why I quit the pill”, where one video is even titled and thoroughly capitalized “THE PILL IS MAKING ME CRAZY. I QUIT”. Despite all this discussion in the social sphere, the medical research in comparison appears to be lacking.

Upon being made available to Canadians since 1960, the pill quickly became the country’s most popular form of reversible contraception. Now, more than 100 million women worldwide use the oral contraceptive pill to prevent pregnancy or control their menstruation.

Birth control pills contain varying levels of the hormones estrogen and progestin, the synthetic version of progesterone, a natural sex hormone. They prevent the release of the egg to stop ovulation from occurring, whilst also thickening the cervical mucus so that sperm cells are unable to enter the fallopian tubes. Both tactics minimize the chances of the egg meets sperm fertilization fairy tale. Provided it is taken correctly, the pill’s efficiency rate is stated to be 99 per cent effective.

Of course, almost every medication comes with its own set of side effects. The most commonly reported repercussions of the pill include intermenstrual spotting, nausea, breast tenderness and migraines. Slotted amongst these physical reactions, the ever-ominous sounding ‘mood changes’ is also listed.

These ‘mood changes’ are reflected in the most common reason for women to stop taking or change the pill they are using – its ramifications on their mental health.

In the 1970s, women protested for more information to be made available about the side effects of the pill as there were increasing reports of women suffering from heart conditions in connection to it. Eventually, the Food and Drug Administration required manufacturers to include inserts, within its packaging, listing the pill’s side effects and risks.

The FDA also required that the pill’s formula contain a significantly less amount of estrogen which has resulted in a lower risk of cardiovascular events and emergence of cancers. However, the connection between usage and increased risk of experiencing mental health issues weren’t legitimately addressed.

Recent studies have determined a link between the changes in hormone levels and the extent of anxiety and depression prevalent such as in premenstrual syndrome. Furthermore, the progesterone hormone has been shown to induce depression while its synthetic version, progestin, has been discovered to result in the decreased production of serotonin which is the hormone responsible for feelings of wellbeing.

Finding an ethical method of proving the cause and effect relationship between the pill and deteriorating mental health has stunted research in the field as the distribution of placebo pills to study subjects would result in unwanted pregnancies. Though, a study involving celibate subjects would face no ethical deliberation.

The issue remains that the advancement of medical technology concerning all categories that the pill’s side effect falls into: mental health, contraceptive technology and women’s health. Funding for such research is simply inefficient in times where it is most needed and expected by many.

Moreover, there is a consistency in the medical community’s reluctance to connect the pill with mental health issues, despite the large quantity of claims that have supported the correlation. Such reluctance possibly stems from the pill’s profit and value as a commodity.

It also seems to be the most accessible form of contraception to many and, so, slandering its brand so to speak may appear as a brash move.

With so many women experiencing heightened mental health issues in connection to their usage of the pill, this is an issue that needs addressing within the medical community. While the government are pushing more funding into mental health awareness, this problem continues to grow without being adequately addressed by research.

It’s time to shift the focus from dealing with the issues at hand after they conspire to looking at preventative measures that will protect users. The pill and its implications need to be more well researched and users must be informed. It’s time for the medical community to listen to women’s experiences, as neglecting their health and wellbeing is not an option.


[1] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2015010/article/14222-eng.htm
[2] https://www.k4health.org/sites/default/files/l13.pdf
[3] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/290196.php
[4] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-05-women-link-pill-depression.html
[5] https://www.plushcare.com/blog/birth-control-pill-brands/
[6] https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/birth-control-pill/how-effective-is-the-birth-control-pill
[7] https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/1514/3518/7100/Pill_History_FactSheet.pdf
[8] https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2015010/article/14222-eng.htm
[9] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-05-women-link-pill-depression.html
[10] https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-05-women-link-pill-depression.html
[11] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/women/contraceptive-pill-bbc-documentary-horizon-mental-health-depression-anxiety-suicidal-thoughts-zoe-a8645151.html


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